As the Special Assistant to the President and Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Melissa Rogers, BA '88, plays a crucial role in serving people in need all over the U.S. She brings people together, forming partnerships among federal agencies and community groups to more efficiently and effectively tackle some of society's biggest issues, such as poverty and hunger, job training and workforce development, and disaster response.
"We work closely with organizations, both faith-based and secular, to serve people in need," Rogers says. "The White House Office also helps monitor and develop domestic and foreign policy as it affects religious individuals and institutions."
In doing this service work, Rogers' office coordinates with centers at agencies including the Departments of Labor, Homeland Security, Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, and Veterans Affairs as well as the Small Business Administration, and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed Rogers to serve as chair of his inaugural Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. In 2011, she was named to a subgroup of the State Department's Religion and Foreign Policy Working Group. In 2013, she was appointed by President Obama to her current role.
Rogers says one of her proudest accomplishments in her current post was working with the National Security Council to coordinate policy issues in connection with Pope Francis’s visit to the White House in September 2015.
"In addition to that being a wonderful process overall, the White House announced during the visit a series of new commitments to advance religious freedom around the globe," she says. "For example, in the face of ISIL atrocities in Iraq and Syria, the Administration appointed a special advisor for religious minorities in the Near East and South and Central Asia to help ensure that the urgent needs of religious minority communities are taken into consideration in our military and humanitarian planning, and that our multi-pronged efforts to assist in the return of these communities to their ancestral homes are implemented as expeditiously and efficiently as possible."
Rogers formerly served as director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University Divinity School and as a nonresident Senior Fellow in the Governance Studies program of The Brookings Institution. She also was the executive director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. Rogers has testified before subcommittees of the U.S. Senate and House Judiciary Committees. She earned her law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where she was a member of the National Moot Court Team.
Born in Fort Worth and raised in New Orleans, Rogers says attending Baylor is a family tradition--her grandfather, parents, an aunt and uncle and many more relatives attended Baylor. While earning her Baylor degree in history, she was a member of the Freshman Leadership Organization, Mortar Board, New Guard/Sentinel, Chi Omega sorority, Phi Beta Kappa, Omicron Delta Kappa national leadership honor society and was a Baylor Ambassador. Rogers received the Young Alumni Award in 2002 and the Abner V. McCall Religious Liberty Award in 2010.
At Baylor she says she learned from professors that "Kindness and service to others are as important as intellectual achievements. Some of my best experiences at Baylor were my interactions with brilliant and caring professors, such as Dr. Rufus Spain, who took the time to get to know me and encourage me."
Over the years, Rogers has stayed connected to Baylor in a number of ways, including working with Carey Newman and Baylor University Press on a casebook she coauthored, Religious Freedom and the Supreme Court; a friendship with the late School of Social Work Dean Diana Garland; and working with Dr. Jim Curry, Baylor's director of the Washington Internship Program. She returned to campus in 2013 as keynote speaker at the annual Together at the Table: Hunger Summit, hosted by the Texas Hunger Initiative.
"It has been fun to host a wide range of Baylor students at the White House, including the Baylor student Ambassadors who regularly visit D.C.," Rogers says. "And until recently, Stacy Koo, BA '04, former special assistant to the president and chief of staff of presidential personnel, and I worked down the hall from one another in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which was a real treat for us."
Rogers resides in Northern Virginia with her husband and two sons.